Gwinnett Tech campus wise investment in future of North Fulton

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Although it’s an old joke that no one’s life, liberty or property are safe when the General Assembly meets, this legislative session has produced a very valuable plum for North Fulton — the full funding for a Gwinnett Tech satellite campus.

I agree with Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones and the other members of the North Fulton delegation and the North Fulton Chamber of Commerce who helped make this possible.

They know having this campus is a boon to North Fulton both as an institution of higher learning and an economic force.

Chattahoochee Tech is a 40-minute drive from my office in Alpharetta, while Gwinnett Tech itself is half an hour away. Even Lanier Tech satellite campus in Cumming is 30 minutes’ drive. But that’s not considering rush hour traffic.

As Jones said, a long drive after working for a full day is a major impediment to North Fulton residents getting the additional training they would need to find higher-paying jobs and contribute more to the economy and the tax base.

In addition to deterring many from seeking technical education, those who do make the drive to Chattahoochee Tech or Lanier Tech are taking up space on the roads and, in a small way, contributing to the rising cost of gas. A North Fulton campus will reduce traffic and make their educational services more easily available and improve the quality of life for those working and attending classes.

Although technical education often gets the short shrift in comparison to four-year colleges, it plays a very important role in our economy. According to the Utah Department of Education, vital fields such as business computer technology, database development, auto mechanics, carpentry, fire science and law enforcement require technical education.

According to Education Week, the jobs that can be filled with only a high school diploma are in decline. The future will require more and more workers with post-secondary education.

I spoke with U.S. Rep. Robert Woodall the other day and he said foreign businesses interested in coming to the U.S. are more concerned about workers’ skills, not their wages or how far they have to drive to work.

Furthermore, many of the jobs requiring a technical education pay well. According to Payscale.com, a carpenter’s wage range up to $30 an hour, while an auto mechanic can earn $25.55 per hour and a firefighter earns $28,396 to $77,320 annually.

Since technical colleges are typically not as expensive as attending a four-year university, they can serve as a gateway for those looking to enter a higher-paying profession. Compare Gwinnett Technical College’s $1,357 for 15 or more credit hours with Kennesaw State University’s $3,211 for 15 credit hours. That is nearly half the cost.

Technical education is especially important in times of economic trial. In the employment upheaval of the last recession, many jobs have simply disappeared, and those who get retrained in other fields obviously improve their chances of restarting a career as opposed to just finding a low-wage job.

According to the Seattle Times, Washington’s community and technical colleges saw record-breaking increases in enrollment in 2008. Technical colleges can help the unemployed get the skills they need for the jobs that are available.

The unemployment rate in Georgia stands at 9.2 percent even though the worst of the recession is over. Compare that to October 2000, when it was 3.3 percent. Retraining the unemployed could help us deal with this major problem.

A Fulton Tech will join North Fulton campuses of Georgia State University, Reinhart College, Clayton State University, Georgia Perimeter College, ITT Technical College, University of Phoenix and Emory University.

This is another brick in the community North Fulton is building for itself as the place to live, work and play in Georgia.